We have finally made it to April. It’s draft month!
The 2016 draft may be one of the deepest drafts in league history and certainly has the potential to produce more than a few Hall of Famers. The big names are known amongst aficionados everywhere, but how about some lesser-known names? Here are nine sleepers (one at each position), that I think will be a steal for any NFL team.
Keith Marshall – RB, Georgia – Projected Round: 5-6
The 5-foot-11, 219-pound Marshall was one of the nation’s most highly recruited backs coming out of high school; he even showed a bit of that next-level potential in his freshman year. However, injuries riddled his career at the University of Georgia. A torn ACL that did not properly heal cost him the better parts of two seasons. Rather than seek an extra year of eligibility, Marshall decide to declare for the NFL Draft.
Marshall was very impressive at the NFL Combine. His 4.31 40-yard dash was tops among running backs and 25 reps on the bench press was fourth among backs. Most thought that Marshall would never regain the speed he showed before the ACL surgery, but the combine may have silenced some of those doubts.
He is lightning fast and strong. If you’re into that kind of thing, this kid will make a great addition to your backfield. Not only do I think he will over perform in the NFL, I believe there will be a general manager out there that is willing to jump up and grab him in the third round.
Chris Jones – DT, Mississippi State – Projected Round: 2-3
Jones is a huge body at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, but has amazing athletic ability. He actually played basketball in high school, helping to make him more agile than a man his size should be. Still, his claim to fame will be his strength and ability to overpower interior linemen.
Something that works against him is his form. Many times you will see him standing straight up when he should be low, an outcome of being strong enough to win battles without great form, surely. Jones also has a tendency to look lazy at times. He will be a project at the next level and may be 2-3 years away from being a top player, but I think he has all the makings of a dominant guy on the line.
Calling a projected second or third round guy a sleeper is a bit of a stretch, but considering the depth on the defensive line in this draft, Jones is just that. Jones ranked number 10 for defensive tackle in the draft and is ranked 19 among defensive lineman (includes defensive ends), on most draft boards.
Kolby Listenbee – WR, Texas Christian University – Projected Round: 3-4
Listenbee will be known as “the other TCU wideout” in this draft, but just because Josh Doctson is likely to be the first or second receiver off the board, does not mean Listenbee won’t have a long and successful NFL career.
Listenbee measures out okay at 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, but certainly will not intimidate any corners in the league with his size. Where he will make his mark is as a deep threat. His 4.39 40-yard dash was second among wideouts and his 129-inch broad jump ranked fifth.
The slim receiver is blessed with great hands to go along with his superior speed. In a league that makes it tough for corners to make much contact on receivers, Listenbee can certainly make an impact.
Caleb Benenoch – OL, UCLA – Projected Round: 7 – FA
At 6-foot-5, 311 pounds, Benencoh probably isn’t as strong as he should be. He looks more like a tight end than an offensive lineman. There are some troubling aspects to him, mainly concerning his balance and strength. At times he shifts too far in one direction than he should, both forward/backwards and laterally. He also can lose form at times.
The good thing about Benenoch is that he has great athleticism and can still fill out his frame at the next level. In college, he was an excellent lineman in the Pac-12. He played primarily at tackle, but also had games at guard. He was versatile in college, but will probably need to bulk up to move around the line in the pros.
Most people are thinking Benenoch will be a career backup, but he has great potential. If he puts in the work in the training room, I think he can take the league by storm. A bigger frame may help him with his balance issues, especially against the Michael Bennetts and J.J. Watts of the world.
Ben Braunecker – TE, Harvard – Projected Round: 5
Braunecker was rated a Top Performer in all seven NFL Combine drills. He finished fifth in the 40-yard dash, third in the bench press, second in the vertical, second in the broad jump, second in the three cone drill, second in the twenty yard shuttle and first in the sixty yard shuttle.
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 250 pounds makes him one of the smaller tight ends in the draft, but Braunecker is an elite blocker and has a great confidence to his game. The Harvard alum is not only smart in the classroom, but on the field as well. He knows how to create space and get open against more athletic defenders, but can always overpower ones that aren’t great in coverage.
Tight end has become a very important position in the NFL, and a great one can be a quarterback’s best option. I’m not sure if there are many people that think Braunecker will have much of an NFL career, but this is what makes him the epitome of a draft sleeper. He is a guy that can play every down, on the line, out wide and even in the backfield.
Justin Simmons – DB, Boston College – Projected Round: 5-6
Simmons measures in at 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds. His height is typical for NFL safeties and although he can stand to gain some weight, he fits the bill for his position.
An uber-athlete, Simmons impressed at the NFL Combine with a 40-inch vertical leap and a 126-inch broad jump. That leaping ability will come in handy against today’s NFL receivers. He also has a knack for the ball and is good at deflecting and intercepting passes.
With his combination of ball skills and athleticism, Simmons can make an impact as soon as he bulks up some. Don’t look for him to be a Pro Bowler in his rookie campaign, but after a full year in an NFL training room, he should definitely have a big second season in 2017. He may be a perfect fit on a team with an aging, veteran safety, where he can learn the game without having to carry too much on his shoulders.
Scooby Wright III – ILB/Arizona/Projected round: 4
The best way to describe Scooby Wright is: football player. Wright is that kid that surprises you with his work ethic. The kid that you don’t expect much of and ends up being the leader of the team. He won’t impress you with his 6-foot, 239-pound frame, or with his athleticism (4.9 40-yard dash), but when Wright is on a football field he gets the job done.
He put himself on the map his freshman year, when he started 12 of 13 games and was top three on the team in tackles, a somewhat surprising year. But Wright took the Pac-12 by storm in his sophomore season: 163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles. Wright had not only become the best linebacker in the Pac-12, he had a strong claim to best defensive player in the nation.
Unfortunately, a torn meniscus limited Wright in his junior season. He played in only three games and decided to enter the draft at the conclusion of the 2015 season. Wright can play. He may not look like Patrick Willis, but he has the same make-up. If he indeed goes in the fourth round, some team will have made a great pick, setting themselves up for years to come. You will hear Scooby Wright’s name for a long time in the NFL.
Kevin Hogan – QB, Stanford – Projected Round: 6
Hogan is ranked the tenth best quarterback in this draft class on most draft boards. He certainly passes the eye test, standing at 6-foot-3, 218 pounds with the “look” of a pro QB. He compared favorably at the Combine against his colleagues; Hogan was rated top five in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and three cone drill, and top 10 in the broad jump. Sure, those drills don’t mean as much for a quarterback as they do for a safety or a running back, but he performed well.
Taking over for Andrew Luck was a tall task, one that Hogan didn’t always live up to, but he certainly had his moments. Although he may have driven the Stanford coaching staff crazy with his inconsistency, the good was certainly good. If you want to see him at his best, throw on the tape from the USC game in 2015. Hogan hit targets in small windows like he was Troy Aikman. That game will certainly have impressed more than a few NFL scouts.
The downside to Hogan are his mechanics — no doubt, this is why he looks mediocre at times. There are certainly steps he can take at the next level to improve on this, but he will not be ready to start on opening day. There are flashes of greatness here, however. Let’s not forget, Aaron Rodgers had some less-than-desirable mechanics when he came out.
In the NFL, just as in every sport, there are guys that exceed expectations. Guys that start off as roster fillers can end up as All-Stars. Players that get looked over, often carry that chip on their shoulders for their entire careers. Every team passed up on Tom Brady — SIX TIMES — and he is now one of the greatest players to ever play.
Who will be the next to fill this role? Who are your sleepers? Let us know in the comments below.